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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

3 Key Facts to Remember When You Feel Underqualified for Your New Job

What have I gotten myself into?

It’s something I’ve thought in the first couple weeks of nearly every job I’ve ever had. After the agony of job hunting, I found myself in what, at the time, felt even worse: I discovered I was completely underqualified for the job.

My responsibilities were daunting, and I felt uncomfortable in my role. Overall, I had no idea what I was doing. Heck, I didn’t even know what I was supposed to be doing. And if I did, by miracle of miracles, figure that out, I had to ask for help with nearly every task I was assigned.

There was one thing I knew for sure: Somewhere along the hiring process, someone had made a mistake, and I certainly wasn’t the right person for this job.

Sound familiar? The first few days of a new job can leave you feeling completely overwhelmed, and even underqualified. But while it’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking, it’s not going to get you anywhere. Instead, reframe your thinking to remember these key things.

1. You Were Hired for a Reason

Here’s the simple truth: Unless you’re a very skilled good actor or you blatantly lied on your resume, the hiring manager saw something in you that made him or her believe you could do that job and, ultimately, want to hire you.

Especially these days, when hiring processes are long and often include phone screenings, personality or aptitude tests, and multiple interviews with stakeholders from across the company, you probably didn’t just sneak in under the radar. The company had plenty of opportunities to evaluate you and make sure you were the person it was looking for—and guess what? You made the cut.

Does that mean you’re going to be able to do everything perfectly the minute you arrive to the office? No. But it does mean that whoever hired you thinks you can do it—even if it takes you some time to adjust.

And here’s another reality: Maybe you truly don’t have the skills necessary to do the job perfectly. Even so, the hiring manager may have hired you because he or she saw the potential in you, combined with a willingness to learn. And if the company that hired you (which has hired many, many people and likely knows what it is looking for) thinks you can do it, there’s no reason to doubt yourself.

2. Doubting Yourself Is What Will Really Sabotage You

When you start getting bogged down by thoughts of being underqualified, it can easily lead to all sorts of irrational thoughts: Should I just quit? Should I tell someone? They’re going to find out eventually.

But by letting these thoughts consume you, you’re likely overlooking the one thing you should be doing: embracing the challenge to overcome your weaknesses and work toward success.

Constantly doubting yourself is only going to continue to tear down your confidence. Every new assignment will be another impossible task; every meeting with your boss will potentially be the one where he or she finds out that you’re a fraud. You’ll attempt to walk on eggshells (or just give up completely), biding your time until someone fires you for your self-perceived incompetence.

Get it out of your head that you’re not qualified for your job, and start focusing on what you can do to start achieving success.

3. To Really Be Successful, You Should Feel Underqualified

The great thing about this situation is that the feeling of being uncomfortable is one that can push you to do more than you imagined possible.

Just think: If you came into a job knowing how to do everything perfectly, you’d simply come in, do your job, and leave—every day. There’d be nothing to push you to learn new skills, develop new competencies, or rise to new levels. You’d be good at your job. But you’d be bored.

Feeling underqualified means you have room to grow—and gives you the push you need to make that happen. Feeling underqualified should, in your mind, equate to: I have to figure out how to do this, no matter what it takes.

Does it mean stepping out of your comfort zone to learn how to lead meetings? How to collaborate with a virtual team? How to organize your time so you can manage multiple projects at once? For me, it was learning how to be a manager—including confronting, disciplining, and coaching employees—with absolutely no prior experience.

Instead of getting bogged down by doubt, let this feeling force you out of your comfort zone and spur you to learn as much as you can. Find a mentor, take online courses, research, and take risks. Do whatever it takes to rise to the challenge.

The thrill of accomplishment is much more satisfying and exhilarating if you are challenged to work for it, rather than if you come in knowing how to do everything perfectly from the get-go.

Maybe, in fact, you should never take a job you feel qualified for.

Photo of confused man courtesy of Shutterstock.

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